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Case Number 16999

Buy Bounty at Amazon


North American Motion Pictures // 2009 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 11th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Joel Pearce has a $10 bounty on his head. He's hoping to avoid any really desperate bounty hunters.

The Charge

Ben: The just have yet to make their way west.
Bartender: Now, you'll find it hard to find water in the desert, too.
Ben: You just need to know where to look.
Bartender: Yeah, but it's still a desert.

Opening Statement

With a bit of winking fun, a fresh storyline or a major script overhaul, Bounty may have been a fun little indie Western. As it stands, this is 90 minutes of the wild west I can't recommend to anyone. Between the quasi-philosophical dialogue, poor plotting, and bad shootouts, this is one Western that will have even the most diehard fans ducking for cover.

Facts of the Case

Ben (Bruce Isham) rescues Nate (Jarret LeMaster) from the gallows. To help Nate dodge a debt, Ben takes him on the road as a bounty hunter. In a small town (which seems to consist of a saloon, the sheriff's office and a stable) they find Em (Michelle Acuna, Parasite), an outlaw who has been captured by the local sheriff. Nate kidnaps her, partly to save her life and partly to collect the bounty himself. They find themselves on the run from the law, falling in love but unable to trust one another. Much Western-related silliness ensues.

The Evidence

Of all the genres in film history, the Western might be the most overdone. New Westerns need to bring something new to the table, or they just play as pale shadows of what's come before—and probably been done better. It's hard to know what first-time writer/director Jake Isham wanted to accomplish with Bounty, but I fear he was equipped with little more than a passion for the genre and a vague ambition to make his own. It turns out that's not enough.

The biggest problem is the dialogue. Maybe it's because I've been basking in the heightened poetics of Deadwood lately, but I really had to stifle giggles when I came to conversations like this:

Ben: Justice? This is the west, kid. You think you'll find justice here? Listen, she's right where she's meant to be. The law is a tough thing to cross.
Nate: So that makes it right.
Ben: Since when do you get to decide what's right and what's wrong? You're not God.
Nate: And you get to decide who is?
Ben: Don't be stupid. It helps to know the bigger picture.

Had the actors fully grasped the nature of the production they were in, they might have embraced the cheese and made it work in a wildly campy way. Unfortunately, they all play it straight—a constant reminder of the low production values. It also speaks to the depth of the script and plot. The biggest questions seem to be how to find justice in the lawless west, and how to discern right from wrong in ambiguous situations. These are the oldest themes to grace the genre, and they are feeling pretty tired.

The plot makes an equivalent amount of sense. It's never clear why Nate owes money in the first place, or what Ben wants to accomplish by bringing him along on his own bounty hunt. If the woman has a huge bounty on her to be brought in alive (the poster claims she is a criminal and a theif (sic)), it seems stupid for this small-town sheriff to hang her himself and lose out on the $800. Pretty much everything else in the film runs on autopilot, and the surprise reveal of the bad guy's true identity will only come as a surprise to someone who fell asleep for half the film. Falling asleep is, I assure you, a possibility.

I have a soft spot for true indie productions. I love it when first-time directors can create something new and do for thousands of dollars what professionals can't do for millions. Bounty just exists as a reminder to these first-time directors that indie filmmakers can't beat the pros at their own game. Instead, they need to make the kinds of films that studios can't. Generic Westerns are the kind of film that studios have been making successfully for decades.

The DVD itself is ugly as sin. While it has some decent cinematography, especially the high-contrast look of the town, it's not enough to hide the plywood walls and cheap costumes. Although it was shot in digital 720p, many of the sequences are highly compressed, looking more like a YouTube video than a DVD transfer. The sound transfer is in 5.1, but rarely draws attention to itself. In terms of special features, we do get deleted scenes and commentary, delivered by the very enthusiastic folks who created the film itself. From the discussion here, it's clear that Isham has a broad knowledge of the genre, which makes me wonder even more why Bounty didn't end up better.

Closing Statement

I hate writing such negative reviews for low budget productions. My main responsibility, however, is to advise the readers of DVD Verdict. In that capacity, I recommend you stay far away from Bounty. It's not worth the time, especially with so many better Westerns available.

The Verdict

There's now an $800 bounty on this film for being a "theif" of my time. Dead, not alive.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 50
Audio: 55
Extras: 40
Acting: 40
Story: 30
Judgment: 35

Perp Profile

Studio: North American Motion Pictures
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Bad
• Independent
• Western

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes


• IMDb

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